- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Border Patrol agents have been reduced to “professional child care providers” for illegal immigrants, warming burritos and babysitting the families and unaccompanied children who are surging across the border at an increasing rate, the agents’ frustrated chief told Congress on Wednesday.

Chief Mark Morgan, who was tapped to lead the agency in June, said he has had to pull hundreds of his agents from patrolling against drugs and illegal border crossers in Arizona and California and shipped them to Texas, where they would be manning what amounts to day care holding centers, stocking baby powder and placing requisition orders for baby wipes.

“Agents, one of their jobs during the day, is to make sure the burritos that are being provided are being warmed properly,” he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

“It really is child care professional stuff that we’re doing: clothing them, feeding them, making sure that they get the medical attention, making sure that they’re able to sleep, making sure that they get appropriate meals during the day, make sure they have snacks, that meals are warm,” he said.

Contradicting his political bosses, Chief Morgan said lax U.S. policies are encouraging the latest surge from Central America and that a tougher policy of fast deportations could cut the rate.

At the same time, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was disputing his subordinate’s read on the situation, saying the rise in illegal immigrants stems from push factors — violence and deteriorating conditions.

“Experience shows that you can build more walls and you can put more border security on the southwest border, but you’ve got to address the underlying circumstances in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that motivate a 7-year-old child to transit the entire length of Mexico, come to the United States for a better life,” he said at a forum sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Until we start addressing those underlying conditions and until we build out the alternative safe legal paths for people to come to this country, we’re going to continue to deal with this problem.”

The Obama administration has struggled to handle the surge of 68,445 people traveling as families and another 68,541 unaccompanied children — those traveling without parents — jumping the U.S. border in 2014. The numbers dipped in 2015 but surged back in fiscal year 2016, with 59,692 unaccompanied minors and a record 77,674 family members.

In October, the first month of fiscal year 2017, some 13,124 family members and 6,754 unaccompanied children were nabbed.

Some of the stories of those who have crossed are heart-rending.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said he encountered a Guatemalan boy in his home state who fled with his sister after encountering a gang back home. The teenager at first resisted joining but was told someone in his family would be killed if he refused, so he joined.

He balked when he was told that his initiation would be to rape his 13-year-old sister. That was when his parents decided to send both of them to the U.S., Mr. Carper said.

“The reason why they have the kind of violence down there is in large part because of us, because of our addiction to drugs and the flow of the drugs through those nations, and to come to our borders, we send them guns and money,” he said.

Chief Morgan said those are the kinds of cases that deserve special humanitarian relief. But he said too many illegal immigrants have learned to game the U.S. system by using code words and, according to intelligence analysts, fabricating stories to gain lenient treatment. Smugglers teach the migrants what to say, Chief Morgan said.

“We know that they’re coaching individuals on specifically what to say when they come here. They just rattle off and they memorize the magic words that they need to say so they’ll fall within the statute of credible fear,” the chief said.

He said the way to stem the flow is to convince would-be migrants that they will be stopped and deported — what he called a “consequence delivery system.”

“The reality is they come to the borders and they are being released. What that does is it sends a strong message to those folks in the country that if you get to the United States border, we’re going to let you in,” he said.

He said “basically 100 percent” of the children and families his agents are catching are being released into the U.S.

Immigration policy, perhaps more than any other issue, is likely to change as President Obama hands over power to Donald Trump.

During the election campaign, Mr. Trump promised a crackdown on illegal immigrants and said he would build a border wall and make Mexico foot the bill.

Chief Morgan said fencing does help stem the flow of people and has freed up 100 agents to be deployed elsewhere in San Diego.

“Do we need more fencing? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Do we need it everywhere? No. Is it the sole answer? No. It’s part of an overall multilayered strategy,” he said. “The fence is great, but if we don’t have access roads to get to the fence, it’s not as good.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican who is advising the Trump transition team and is in the running to be homeland security secretary, said transition officials are considering using the threat of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to force Mexico to do more to stop the surge of illegal migrants.

“I met with the Mexican ambassador, and he wanted me to send the message that we have a shared interest in securing the border,” Mr. McCaul said at the forum with Mr. Johnson. “I do think with the NAFTA discussions that will take place that there’s leverage to get them to, as Jeh mentioned, secure their southern border. It’s a choke point, geographically very small, and that would actually stop a lot of flow from Central America.”

Internal Border Patrol documents reviewed by The Washington Times show Mexican officials are helping some illegal immigrants reach the U.S. Thousands of Haitians who have been living in Brazil and Chile since the 2010 earthquake in their home country have streamed north this year, and Mexican authorities issue them 20-day travel permits — enough time to cross from south to north and reach the U.S. border, where they can demand asylum.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday about the threat to use NAFTA to wring concessions out of the government there.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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